"Any minute, there could be a catastrophe here. We want to run away as quickly as possible, because it's dangerous," area resident Ibrahim abu-Afash told Ynet. "We could be killed at any moment," he added.
While he noted that the State had moved Bedouin families to the area before the Ramat Hovav industrial council was established, he explained that since factories have cropped up, "living near Ramat Hovav is like being a Bedouin sentenced to death."
Late Monday morning, a pesticide container exploded at the Makhteshim-Agan factory, located in Ramat Hovav. It sent a cloud of phosphoric acid – considered toxic and extremely hazardous – into the air.
Firefighters, along with emergency environmental protection crews, sent by the Environmental Protection Ministry, managed to contain the leak by neutralizing it with sand within two hours. But Gershon Chlimie, the fire inspector sent to the site, said that although the fire had been put out, hazardous materials were still leaking.
According to abu-Afash, even without an outright explosion, the area is dangerous. He said many Bedouins have contracted cancer. "Yesterday my neighbor, of age 30, died of cancer. Friday a 35-year-old woman also died of cancer.
"Women have miscarriages often and diseases are abundant," he added. "Last night was harder than other nights. But such an explosion can occur at any time."
A well-known hazard
Head of the council for unrecognized villages in the Negev, Hassin al-Rafiah,said that he had long ago alerted officials to the danger of housing people near Ramat Hovav. "We have been saying for years that there would be a catastrophe. Area residents must be moved. They are paying with their health and this is a failure on the part of the State."
The 'Bamakom' foundation for housing rights called on the government to advance the issue of relocating residents. "Since Ramat Hovav was established, the lives of area residents have been endangered," the foundation said in a statement.
"Reports by the Health Ministry and by environmental organizations repeatedly alluded to the possibility and danger of such a scenario. An immediate and amenable solution must be found for these residents, who have been living near a severe environmental hazard for decades with no recourse," the statement continued.
According to Ilan Yeshurun, head of the Directorate for the Promotion of the Bedouin in the Negev, efforts to address the residents' living problems had recently been renewed, even before Monday's accident. He said a meeting between the Bedouins and local officials was scheduled for the end of August.
He added that, in the past, an offer had been made to relocate residents of Wadi Na'am to Segev Shalom – also in the Negev – but that they had turned this offer down.